“Writing remains but stories disappear. It’s not just for Timbuktu but for all Muslim culture.” — Ben Essayouti, imam of Timbuktu’s Grand Mosque
Jun 08 2007
In Helen Epstein’s briliant new book on Aids and Africa, “The Invisible Cure,” she makes much of sub-Saharan Africa’s exceptional experience with the pandemic. She points out that many other parts of the world where supposed to suffer extreme increases in HIV/AIDS cases, based on extrapolation by public-health advocates and international-aid agencies. Yet Africans remain the most stricken with the disease. Fresh evidence suggests that this assessment is likely to stand for some time. A new report on India suggests that the country may have millions fewer people infected with the virus than previously believed. Last year, the U.N. pegged India’s number at 5.7 million, slightly ahead of South Africa. As the New York Times reported today:
â€œEveryone transiting through here says, â€˜This is a pandemic,â€™ â€ Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, Indiaâ€™s health minister, said in an interview here. â€œBut I am very confident that we will not turn into a generalized epidemic.â€
The lower figure for India would imply that India has managed to keep its epidemic more like that of the United States, in that the virus circulates mostly within high-risk groups. In Indiaâ€™s case, these are prostitutes and their clients â€” especially truckers; men who have sex with men; and people who inject drugs, especially in the northeast, on the borders with Myanmar.
That is exactly what some experts on AIDS surveillance techniques have been arguing for years, saying that Indians do not have the same kind of sexual networks that are common in southern and eastern Africa, in which both men and women often have two or more occasional but regular sexual partners over long periods of time. Also, outside of prostitution, â€œtransactional sexâ€ between teenage girls and older men in return for money, food or clothes is much less common in Asia than in Africa.”
New methods for estimated infection rates have also resulted in lower figures for African countries. In some cases, the number of people believed to be infected is cut in half after random sampling is employed rather than the U.N.’s method of testing pregnant women. Nevertheless, new estimates still show Africa with the worst HIV/AIDS problem, and South Africa’s situation (the country is believed to have more than 5 million people infected) is unlikely to be exaggerated because sampling techniques in the country are considered accurate “because the epidemic is older than Indiaâ€™s and population surveys have been done,” The Times reports.
So fans of Africa are once again reminded of African exceptionalism and must resort, anew, to asking why? Epstein’s “The Invisible Cure” provides some answers and is a good place to begin the quest for greater understanding.
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